Mansion on Main
Yesterday we official visited one of the historic homes on the “Year of the Virginia Historical Homes” tour. We have seen many that are on the list, but this is the first one that we will get to count on our “Master Traveler Passport”. To see this home, your tour starts at the antique store just behind the house. The mansion’s owner, Betty Clark, owns this wonderful store called “Mansion House Art and Antiques”.
As you enter this beautiful antique store, you are greeted by so many wonderful things. The “Official Greeter” Chloe, stands guard and greets those who stop by.
In every corner of this store are treasures of days go by. Lovingly displayed, it is hard not to purchase each item. Two antique cars, silver and beautiful paintings are at every turn. The delicate china is laid out on the table in wait for guest to arrive.
One phone call later, we were sent to the back door of the Mansion through the back garden. Poor Brett had to stop almost every two steps as I took pictures of garden and outdoor sitting areas. We were greeted by Dawn, the innkeeper. She was wonderful and provided us with lots of history of the home.
This beautiful Queen Ann style Victorian is located in downtown Smithfield, Virginia. This home, nicknamed the “Mansion on Main” is the showplace home of Richard Samuel Thomas (1837-1915). The urban home was built in 1889 and changed the face of Smithfield from Victorian cottage and federal style homes to the “trend-setting” urban architecture with Queen Anne and Art Nouveau influences.
The home stand proudly on the corner edge of the original colonial roads and is at the top of Wharf Hill, a thriving port on the Pagan River. Attorney and town historian Richard S. Thomas made the showpiece his home and business office.
Richard S. Thomas and his wife Frances Boykin Jordan Thomas were connected to several other Smithfield historic properties and their preservation. The Thomas brothers dedicated stain glass windows at St. Luke Church in honor of two ancestors who were “vestrymen” (lay leaders) in the 1750s. One of the vestrymen was Jordan Thomas. He was not only Richard S. Thomas’s ancestor but also the county surveyor who mapped out Smithfield’s first streets.
In 1873, the elder brother of Richard S. Thomas purchase the 1750 Courthouse, which was the first building erected in the new Town of Smithfield.
An older Thomas brother converted the colonial plantation called “The Grove” into a boarding house. The elder brother of Richard S. Thomas inherited Four Square Plantation, which was started in 1693.
Due to the endless efforts of Richard S. Thomas to preserve the historical sites of Smithfield, the Virginia Historical Society bestowed on him the title of “a Virginian of Virginians”. Their remarks were “Only a sketch, en silhouette, can we give of another devoted friend of this Society, Richard S. Thomas of Smithfield, whose most salient characteristic, if we may term it so, was his devotion to Virginia… Steeped in Colonial lore, a first-and student of Virginia records, he was an enthusiastic member of this Society, and published several valuable monographs, which brought him no small reputation among scholars… We, who knew him long and well, entertain no misgivings that we yield him the tribute that he himself would have most prized when we say simply that he lived and died “a Virginian of Virginians.” [“Proceedings of the Virginia Historical Society at its Annual Meeting held in the House of the Society on February 25, 1915,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 23, xxxi – xxxiii]
The Mansion was a private residence for many years. In the late 1995, Sala Clark purchased this historical home and started restoring it with the idea of opening a bed and breakfast. On hearing the nickname, she christened it the “Mansion on the Main” Bed and Breakfast. Sadly Sala Clark would pass away in 1998. Although Sala Clark did not live to see the restoration completed, her vision and efforts resurrected a place that offers the romantic beauty of a bygone era. Her mother, Betty Clark continues to oversee the property as a bed and breakfast in memory of Sala.
The Mansion was the first house in the Historic District to return to authentic “Painted Lady” splendor. The museum-like interior retains original marble finish fireplaces and heart pine floors and is resplendent with furnishings dating from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Extensive intricate hand carved woodwork crafted by European artisans is exhibited in plaster crown moldings and medallions, a grand staircase, pocket doors, and wainscot. Today, the mansion features museum-quality antiques and Victorian to Edwardian period furnishings.
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